Steve In Ink: The Sorry State of Apologies (Phila Inquirer 5/26/11)
May 26, 2011 (Disclaimer: For nearly one month I ran against Arnold
Schwarzenegger in his first gubernatorial race. Admittedly I had very
little chance of winning. Number one, my entire campaign was based on
taking the California’s budget deficit and transferring it into Beverly
Hills. Number two, I was never able to get my housekeeper pregnant…and I
was married to her.)
From the moment he announced his decision to run on The Tonight Show,
Arnold was able to fend off the claims of womanizing, groping,
Kindergarten Cop and other embarrassing behavior for eight years and two
successful elections. Now, the revelation of an out of wedlock child has
set up what will surely become another in a long line of high-profile
apology tours - Edwards, Ensign, Clinton, Woods, Vitter, Sanford, Gibson,
Spitzer, Gingrich, et al.
These infamous mea culpas are usually embedded with excuses for mistakes,
weaknesses of mind, body and soul or youthful indiscretions; some replete
with tearful requests for forgiveness. Of course, the apologies rarely
come more than a second before the source-reported TMZ headline. In the
case of the ever-randy, now former International Monetary Fund head,
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, his apology is still being readied for when his
handlers remind him that admitting guilt might just improve his
opportunity to win a presidential election. Afterall, he is French.
Apologies typically are meant to lay the groundwork for the next run for
the gold. Newt Gingrich wants to be our next president. Arnold has his
Terminator movies and the Governator, a Saturday morning kiddy cartoon
which now may be better placed in the hands of the South Park writers.
Tiger Woods would like to shoot par. Mel Gibson wants to have at least
one Jew attend The Beaver.
There are those who continue to try and sell themselves as wronged or at
best, flawed, but really, really sorry. The “sorry” is simply a result of
getting caught but there is no real understanding nor redemption that
results from a request for forgiveness or an excuse for adultery fueled
by patriotic fervor (thank you, Newt).
Confession may be good for the soul but for real personal transformation
there needs to be actual change. Unfortunately for these scoundrelistas,
their mortified families and society as a whole, sorry + time alone
doesn’t equal change and leaving it up to a public relations department’s
re-imaging provides only paper thin camouflage wrapped around the same
mindset that is ready to pounce on another self-gratification opportunity
the moment it thinks no one is looking.
They might dry out at Bette Ford or offer free kick-to-the-groin lessons
for housekeepers, but learning from failure does not come out of a
singular act of kindness or passively sitting through a two week stint in
rehab. It has to be combined with resolve - taking real and affirmative
action - not to erase the wrong, but to replace it with a much larger
It doesn’t mean that Mel Gibson needs to convert complete with an
unanesthetized circumcision or that Milton Street needs to discover a
process for turning tax evasion into a cancer cure, though both would be
a step in the right direction.
What it takes is true acceptance of the wrong and discontinuation of the
behavior; not a momentary, “how do I get out of this hole I’ve dug
without actually having to get rid of the hole?” Without going Alcoholics
Anonymous all over you, we’re talking about conceding you hit bottom and
for some that bottom can be pretty darn low (see: C. Sheen). The problem
for most narcissists is that the very first step in AA recovery is to
admit that you are powerless. Sadly for these megalomaniacs, it was the
sense of power that made the world their personal amusement park.
Powerlessness is what they fear the most. Imagine being over sixty,
without power (or money) and expecting a twenty-two year old temptress to
want to play naked beach blanket bingo with you. The realization can be
devastating, especially when you’ve spent most of your life being told
how you’re the best thing since sliced bread; the hot, diamond-encrusted
But whether or not you are ready to come to grips with what kind of lout
you are, you can still have society grit their teeth and accept you back
into their fold. It takes being of service; like working with those with
similar problems, helping the victims or becoming a bona fide role model
for those who are still impressed with you and your position. Throwing
money at the problem is not enough. You have to actually put some sweat
into it. Sometimes the results of your labors may even open your own eyes
to the rewards of having fundamental decency, i.e. being a mench.
For example, former PA State Senator and now federal prisoner, Vince
Fumo, might want to consider writing a book on ALL the ways legislators
(no names required; we’re looking for salvation, not rats) are able to
funnel taxpayer money to political operatives. It might include a chapter
or two on suggestions as to how those in influential positions, as he
once was, can put a clamp on it ever happening again. Fumo spent a
lifetime acquiring expertise. How he now chooses to use the knowledge
might not precisely balance the books but it can alter how he is viewed
for the rest of his life.
It’s like Einstein said. Within every problem is an opportunity. Just
make sure it’s not the kind of opportunity that’s only possible when your
wife’s out of town.